Last month, Philadelphia officials used eminent domain to seize 35 properties for a private development project in Kensington, a neighborhood the city first declared blighted in 1968. The project, affordable housing and retail space, depends on public subsidies: tax credits and a $1.8 million grant.
From the City Paper:
Meletios Anthanasiadis … is livid that some seven properties in his name are all being taken from him. The properties in question are garages that he says are currently rented to tenants, who use the garages and adjacent parking lots for businesses including an auto body shop and a small antique car restoration business. "They're displacing a small business," he says. "They're costing people their jobs."
"They're stealing [the properties]. They're taking my property, my tax dollars, and giving it to someone else."
Anthanasiadis had purchased the properties over the past 12 years or so with the plan to rent them out until he could develop on them himself. He says it was his only retirement plan, after running pizza shops ever since he dropped out of school before 10th grade. He feels that he invested in the neighborhood when few others wanted to—and now someone else will reap the profits.
…Tamara and Henry Asta, who live at 1515 N. Cadwallader St., will be losing their side yard, which they bought years ago for $10,000 and have tended into a vegetable garden, with a cherry tree. They've been saving up to build a garage on part of the lot, and even though they say the city has offered them $17,000 for the land, they don't want to sell it. "I'm using the land. I don't want to sell it. We want to build a garage," Tamara says.
As in Point Breeze, another neighborhood where the city is using eminent domain, the city already owned a sizeable chunk of the project footprint—and let it sit vacant and dilapidated for years.
In 2006, Pennsylvania reformed its eminent domain laws to strengthen protections for property owners. The new rules ban taking property "in order to use it for private enterprise" but don't take effect in Philadelphia until later this year.
Video via Mike Salvi.
Update: In fact, Philadelphia's exemption from eminent domain reform expired on December 31, 2012. The city acquired title to the properties on December 18th.